Online Course vs Membership Site: Which One Should You Launch?

  • Reading time:9 mins read

What if I told you there was a better way to sell your eLearning products than by launching an online course?

It’s a method that can help you…

  • earn a recurring income
  • retain your customers for longer
  • grow an engaged community

…while providing a learning environment your customers are actively looking for in the post-COVID-19 era.

Well, you’d probably think I was about to pitch you some expensive solution that promises to unlock the keys to the eLearning industry. But, I’m not.

Instead, I’m talking about membership sites.

Our internal research shows that membership sites have become the go-to option for eLearning business owners and their students to get what they need online.

And, starting one has never been easier.

In this guide, I’m going to talk you through why membership sites have started to replace online courses, and help you decide which option is right for your business.

Let’s go.

Why More eLearning Entrepreneurs Are Choosing Membership Sites

We’ve seen a major shift in our clients moving from online courses to membership sites.

Specifically, they’ve evolved their business models from one-off courses into long-term membership platforms. Let me explain…

Online courses typically focus on solving one major problem in the student’s life. You build a curriculum that will teach them how to solve it and sell lifetime access to it.

For example, if you focus on personal development you might launch a video course about how to improve your mindset, like Ramit Sethi’s Mental Mastery course:

online course mental mastry example

This content monetization model is tried-and-tested and has been at the core of many successful online businesses. You may even have taken one of these courses yourself.

But, online courses have their limitations.

Because the product is typically focused on one topic, and completed within 4 to 12 weeks, there is an in-built churn rate. All of your customers must eventually finish your course.

That means 2 important things happen:

  1. You have to find new students if you want to earn more money
  2. Your students are forced to stop interacting with your brand

This creates an endless cycle of lead generation and conversion to keep your business afloat. And, any sense of community you’ve created is instantly gone as old students graduate.

This is where membership sites come into play.

Membership site businesses still focus on delivering your self-paced eLearning content – typically in the form of videos – that your students can work through towards a goal or solution.

But they allow you to deliver more content to more people over a longer period of time. It’s like taking all the individual courses you offer and using them to launch an online school.

This means you can:

  • Create a comprehensive platform that covers multiple topics.
  • Charge a recurring monthly, quarterly, or annual fee.
  • Create community areas where students can interact.
  • Create new content that keeps people coming back for more.

And the best news is that demand for these types of platforms is growing, as people look to do more online learning and search for safe places to interact with like-minded people.

In fact, let’s take a look at a real business that has made the switch from courses to memberships.

Why MommaStrong Switched From Online Courses To Membership Sites

MommaStrong is a successful membership site that aims to help and support moms on their fitness journey.

membership site momma strong

They originally grew their business by creating and selling individual courses through Kajabi, where they built a following of 10,000 paying subscribers. But, they recently migrated to Uscreen to launch a video membership site.

Why?

Because MommaStrong saw a way to improve their offering that was simpler and more profitable for them as business owners, while being more accessible and community-driven.

For example…

They could consolidate all of their educational content into one easy-to-access content library, where students can pick and choose from a wide range of tutorials and videos:

membership website content momma strong

Having this type of content catalog means they can regularly add new videos members can work through at their own pace and give them a reason to keep coming back.

And, when you combine this with community features like..

  1. personalized profiles: so users can let their personalities shine.
  2. live streaming: where they could interact with their audience in real-time, like by holding webinars.
  3. live chats: where students can interact with each other during live streams
  4. comments: where students can share thoughts, ideas, and engage each other.

…they’re able to create a go-to online space for strong moms to come together. This taps into people’s Tribe Mentality: their desire to be an active part of a community they care about.

Better still, users can get access to all the great content and a community for an affordable and recurring monthly fee.

This means that once they convert a customer to their platform, they increase their potential lifetime value, and reduce their reliance on finding new customers.

Now while we do believe that membership sites are the best way to monetize your eLearning content in 2021 and beyond, we also know they aren’t perfect for every type of business.

Which brings us to…

The Pros and Cons of Online Courses and Membership Sites

In this section we’re going to go through the pros and cons of both online courses and membership sites to help you find the best option.

Online Courses: Higher Prices But More Lead Generation

Online courses may have their limitations but there are still a number of benefits to using them. Especially, if you only have one core subject you want to teach.

For example:

If you focus on a specific topic like personal finance and you have one tried-and-tested method you use, then packaging that as a one-off course can be a really good option.

You can:

  • Charge more money (higher priced courses can retail for $999+)
  • Create sales funnels that make periodic course enrollments easier to manage
  • Generate new income by using existing content

Once you’ve created your course content – as long as the information is current – you’re able to monetize it for as long as you like. It’s a digital product you can sell over and over again.

But, on the other hand…

You will need to invest a lot of money into marketing and lead generation. You’ll need to constantly promote your courses, or build up to your next launch.

This requires a lot of time, money, and investment in free content to entice new customers. And, your income will be much harder to predict over the long term.

ProsCons
Higher upfront incomeUnpredictable income
Can be systemizedConstant lead generation
Limited need for new contentIn-built churn rate

Membership Websites: Recurring Income With Higher Demand For New Content

We’ve already discussed some of the major pros of running a membership site, like:

  • More predictable recurring revenue
  • Higher customer retention
  • Having an engaged online community

But there are a few more we’ve not explored.

Membership websites are perfect for anyone who wants to cover a wide range of subjects around a common topic. They allow you to go both broad and deep in the subjects you cover.

Sticking with the personal finance example from the last section, let’s say you wanted to educate on a number of related topics like…

  • real estate
  • investments
  • cryptocurrencies

…then you could create individual courses, or even just one-off videos, that provide in-depth information for each subject. This also gives customers a reason to stick around!

You also benefit from compound income. Every time you add a new member, they go into your list of other recurring subscribers, and your income continues to grow over time.

membership website recurring revenue

This means you’re always growing your long-term revenue. The sale you make now could still be earning you money in 2, 3 or even 5 years time! 

But, there are also drawbacks to running a membership site.

Your initial income will be lower because subscription models usually have a lower price point. You’ll need to charge somewhere in the range of $12 to $20, depending on the pricing for your different membership levels.

There is also a high demand for content creation.

You need to add fresh new content periodically to keep students engaged and make their recurring subscription worthwhile. You’ll want to build up to around 12 hours of content, with additional learning resources like PDFs.

ProsCons
Predictable recurring incomeLower initial income
Ability to go broad and deepHigh demand for ongoing content
Build a long-term business

How To Build Your Membership Site In 5 Steps

If you’ve been through this article and decided you want to launch a membership site, first off, allow us to congratulate you on an excellent decision!

Now, it’s time to get started on building and launching your platform. Here are the 5 steps you need to take:

  1. Pick a site-building platform. You have 3 options when it comes to choosing a membership platform. Build your own DIY membership website with WordPress, hire a developer to build a website for you, or use a video membership platform, like Uscreen.
  2. Plan your video content. This is the fun part! You get to create unique content and repurpose your old content for a nice mix of both. Create a solid database in a Video Content Management System that is ready for publication.
  3. Build out a fully customized site. Build your website from a page builder or a video membership platform and fully customize it. Make it yours.
  4. Choose a pricing structure. Do you want a monthly fee? Or perhaps an annual, or quarterly membership plan on an ongoing basis? By offering different membership levels, you can price out mid to high tiers for upsells as well.
  5. Launch and build your online community. Share shoutouts, teasers, and previews of your video content in your own online community to generate interest and build rapport.

If you want a more detailed guide, you can check out this in-depth post on how to build your own membership site. Or you can watch the video below:

Wrapping This Up…

Online courses have helped paved the way for the eLearning industry. But, the time has come for entrepreneurs to choose a more sustainable and community-driven business model.

Membership sites offer a long-term solution, that focuses on bringing your students together, and helping you earn a more predictable and reliable income.

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